Keymar minister finds mission among teen-agers Youths see him as approachable NORTHWEST--Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown

January 21, 1993|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,Contributing Writer

When the Rev. Bryce Wickard was born, his parents took the term "special delivery" literally.

"I was born in a post office," said the 28-year-old associate pastor of Keymar Evangelical Christian Church. "My parents had an apartment over the post office, and they didn't make it to the hospital in time. They weighed me on a postal scale."

Pastor Bryce, as he is popularly known, has been trying to be just an ordinary guy ever since -- which is exactly how he is viewed by the young people participating in his church's Teens in Action program.

"I can ask him questions," says Kim Brooks, a 17-year-old member of the program and a senior at Francis Scott Key High School. "He's a very caring and concerned person.

"What he believes he puts in his own life. It's not like he's trying to tell us to be one way and he doesn't do it himself."

In Teens in Action, the teens volunteer for community service, hold retreats, and discuss social and moral issues. They also conduct worship services every six weeks.

Last Thanksgiving, they decorated boxes for a nursing home.

"They are involved in the life of the church," said Mr. Wickard. "I serve as their sounding board."

He also is a good role model and friend to the youths, said Deanna Miskell, the program's coordinator.

"TIA tries to minister to the total teen, to help [the teens] grow spiritually and in leadership," Mrs. Miskell said. "Bryce is a good example. He thinks young and he commands their respect as a leader."

In addition to his duties at the church, Mr. Wickard is chairman of the youth department for his denomination, the Evangelical Christian Church.

"I was moved from treasurer to president," said the pastor, whose responsibilities include running two summer camps and all retreats, and attending youth conferences.

He became aware of the opening for an associate pastor at Keymar in the spring of 1992.

"I felt God's voice calling me here", he said.

He had previously been pastor for four years at a church in Lebanon, Pa.

He said he developed an interest in helping young people when he was in school at Messiah College, but it was not until he started as a pastor that he became formally involved with them.

"I was assigned to the youth board of the denomination while I was in Lebanon," he said.

His decision to leave Pennsylvania and come to Keymar was a difficult one. "I was torn," Mr. Wickard said. "You get close to people who you are with for four years. You go through births, deaths and all that."

Now, however, he said he is "happy to be here. This is my element.

"The people here are involved, committed," he said. "Most of the leg work for the program is done by lay people."

His wife, Valerie, 25, shares his feelings. "I was apprehensive about moving here, learning new names and all, but everyone was real friendly," Mrs. Wickard said. "I really like it here. It's a lot more peaceful than the city."

She also shares her husband's commitment to helping teen-agers by serving on the youth staff and attending meetings that he can't.

"She understands people because she has a degree in social work," said Mr. Wickard. "We made the decision that she can speak for me. We represent each other."

Mr. Wickard said he feels it is important for young people to have someone who will listen to them, and he tries to think of ways to spend time with them.

An avid outdoorsman, Mr. Wickard thinks it would be a great gift to the church if someone would allow its hunting and fishing fellowship to hunt on their property because public hunting grounds are limited in Carroll County.

He also spends time just hanging out and playing with the area's children.

"So many young people have to fit into adult things, and we, as adults, feel we have 'arrived' and can't stoop to their level. I don't feel that way", he said.

The Rev. Dean Kramer, a former associate pastor at the Keymar church and one of the organizers of Teens in Action, said it's that attitude that makes Mr. Wickard so effective.

"I think he's doing a great job. He's not threatening to the young people," Mr. Kramer said. "He's a good friend to them and they respect him for that. He doesn't come across as not being able to be talked to, and that's important."

Mr. Wickard also rotates between Francis Scott Key High School, Gettysburg High School, and Littlestown High School, going once a week to eat lunch with the students and talk. He views those trips as opportunities to minister to the students without forcing ideas on them.

"At first I wasn't sure if the schools would let me [visit] because of the separation of church and state. But they just asked me why I was there and gave me a pass," he said.

"In the beginning, the kids were distrustful of me being there," Mr. Wickard said. "An adult usually doesn't come to school unless someone is in trouble. But now they seem to enjoy it."

His purpose, he said, is not to try to sell himself or the church, but to let people know that "Jesus is the best thing that could happen in their lives. I try to do ordinary things with people because that's what Jesus did. He got involved with people in their everyday lives and ministered to them."

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